Monday, February 1, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 24: Jesus and Hell

Rich Man and Lazarus by Bonifazio Veronese
Note: Since Lent begins so early this year, we will be doubling up on our chapters from We Make the Road by Walking the next two weeks to get on the right schedule. This week, please take time to read both "Jesus and the Multitudes" (Ch. 23) and "Jesus and Hell" (Ch. 24). Since I preached on Chapter 23 this week, our blog will focus on Chapter 24.

"Hell" holds a more prominent place in many modern forms of Christianity than it does in the pages of Scripture. Jesus does occasionally talk about a fiery place of punishment, but as our chapter this week points out, when he does he says some surprising things about it. Consider this central passage from our chapter this week:

"Jesus clearly agreed that there was an afterlife. Death was not the end for Jesus. But one of the most striking facets of his life and ministry was the way he took popular understandings of the afterlife and turned them upside down. Who was going to hell? Rich and successful people who lived in fancy houses and stepped over their destitute neighbors who slept in the gutters outside their gates. Proud people who judged, insulted, excluded, avoided, and accused others. Fastidious hypocrites who strained out gnats and swallowed camels. The condemnation that the religious elite so freely pronounced on the marginalized, Jesus turned back on them. And who, according to Jesus, was going to heaven? The very people whom the religious elite despised, deprived, avoided, excluded, and condemned. Heaven’s gates opened wide for the poor and destitute who shared in few of life’s blessings; the sinners, the sick, and the homeless who felt superior to nobody and who therefore appreciated God’s grace and forgiveness all the more; even the prostitutes and tax collectors...Again and again, Jesus took conventional language and imagery for hell and reversed it. We might say he wasn’t so much teaching about hell as he was un-teaching about hell." (Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking pp. 112-113, emphasis mine)

Consider how this teaching compares to what you were taught, have heard in the media, or think is generally believed about hell. Some questions to reflect on:
Who do we popularly hear is going to hell? 
Who do we popularly hear is going to heaven? 
How might Jesus want to take our conventional imagery and language for hell today and un-teach it, turning our preconceptions upside down? 

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